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Utility Week 21st February 2014

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6 | 21st - 27th February 2014 | utILIty WeeK Special report Extreme weather Is prolonged extreme weather now business as usual? Weeks of constant rainfall have led to widespread flooding across the country, while near hurricane- force winds have felled power lines, especially in the West and South. Conor McGlone reports. B ritain has been in the grip of an "unparalleled national crisis," accord- ing to major general Patrick Sanders, the assistant chief of defence staff. As the floods and storms that have battered the nation since Christmas come to a tentative halt, water and power companies are le counting the cost and asking, is this the new normal? January was England's wettest winter month in almost 250 years, with 146.9mm of rain. As storm aer storm raged, hundreds of thousands of customers lost power – 400,000 WPD customers were cut off last week alone as a result of two violent storms, which saw wind gusts reaching 100 mph. The extreme weather has been blamed on climate change, and further incidences are expected. Utilities have coped well with the latest weather events, with WPD restoring power to all customers within the guaran- teed standard times specified by Ofgem, with no major disruptions to water supply. Over the Christmas period alone, 750,000 customers lost power supplies, with some areas of the network experiencing as many faults in five days as would normally be seen in two months. Despite this, networks managed to recon- nect 93-95 per cent of customers within 24 hours. Indeed, this confidence seems to be backed up in the figures, with Severn Trent and South West Water playing down the financial effects of flooding in their interim statements last week. The former claimed the flooding had "no material financial impact" on its finances. Supply disruptions have been "winter business as usual", according to trade body Water UK, with a "few hundred" people across the UK affected so far, and typically for just a few hours. But experts warn that resources will come under increasing strain in any further cases of extreme weather. Shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex told Utility Week: "Companies have grown increasingly capable in dealing with extreme weather events, but there remain questions to be asked. Current poli- cies, which involve pooling rapid response resources between companies and regions, leave the system exposed to shocks which strike more than one region. "As Ed Miliband has made clear, storms of this nature are likely to become increas- ingly common as a result of climate change. Companies and governments need to be increasingly vigilant and ensure that substa- tions, power stations and other parts of our vital power infrastructure are protected ahead of time against such events." The prolonged and widespread rainfall that the country has seen in the past few weeks could be just the start. The Met Office has highlighted a number of recent studies, including one from the International Journal of Climatology, which provides evidence that rainfall is increasing in intensity. Supporting this, figures from the Met Office show that while in the 1960s and 1970s, extreme rain- fall could be expected once every 125 days, now the frequency is once every 85 days. The effects could be devastating: should a major treatment works flood, hundreds of thousands of customers could be cut off, increasing costs dramatically. This is what happened in 2007 at Severn Trent's Mythe water treatment works in Tewkesbury. Its closure le 350,000 customers without tap water for more than two weeks. Severn Trent is confident there will be no recurrence, having dismantled a disused railway embankment alongside the treat- ment works, and invested £38 million in a number of projects to improve the resilience of Gloucestershire's water supplies since the floods of 2007. However, there has already been a close shave at Sutton and East Surrey's Kenley Water Treatment Works, with the prospect of a shutdown "touch and go" at one point ear- lier this month. South West Water's region has also been hit hard, with the company What's the plan? It has emerged this week that building on flood plains has played a role in the widespread devastation. •  200,000 homes were built on flood  plain between 2001 and 2011 •  Planning authorities have no legal  obligation to consult the Environment Agency or water companies, or to follow  their advice if they do consult them

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